This piece was originally featured on VICE Australia.
Despite gaining popularity rapidly over the last several years (see: Leo vaping at the SAG awards), vaping has had a rough time. It's openly ridiculed by many, possibly because it's the lamer, very boring cousin of smoking. But, in what could be the foundation of a whole image-makeover for the vape industry, New Zealand researchers are now claiming it could be an effective way to manage weight.
Associate professor Marewa Glover from Massey University's School of Public Health and her colleagues have trawled through published studies to learn about how vaping affects appetite. Glover has been researching smoking reduction for the past 23 years. With obesity about to overtake tobacco smoking as the mostly costly disease in many countries, she's looking at whether vaping can actually be part of the solution. We asked her what she discovered.
Associate professor Marewa Glover. Image via.
VICE: Hey Marewa, from what I understand the power of vaping as weight control method lies is in its capabilities as an appetite suppressant?
Marewa Glover: That's what we're trying to figure out. We'd begun to hear that vapers who were quitting smoking a second time round—this time with the help of vaping—they weren't experiencing the weight gain that they'd noticed the first time round. They said it was preventing them from snacking and basically a whole heap of weight control benefits. We're looking at the mechanisms to see if there's anything there and we think there is.
So is it the inhaling-exhaling thing? Or is it the nicotine?
Well that's the thing, there's a whole lot of variables. Are these vapers experiencing weight loss vaping e-cigarettes with nicotine? Nicotine acts on the brain on a number of ways. It's a stimulant so you're burning slightly more energy and it's speeding up your metabolism. This explains why people who smoke tobacco recognise they have become dependent on it for weight control. A lot of smokers replace food with cigarettes, so we want to know if that's what vapers are doing. Our next step is to try pick apart differences and try to understand more.
That's a huge deterrent for smokers trying to quit isn't it, the inevitable weight gain?
Yes, totally. It really does put people off. Often people will try to quit, notice the weight and then go back to smoking. Then there are others who would like to quit but don't want to put on weight. It has been a big problem. So this is kind of like "wow, this is helping people stop smoking and it might possibly stop people put on that post-cessation weight." We just don't know what part of the vaping experience is preventing them from putting on weight. Is it maintaining the nicotine levels? Is it the flavours? Or is it the behaviour, like having a chocolate craving and vaping chocolate instead.
The food replacement thing is interesting, could this mean that even for your non-smoking overweight people, vaping could be a means of weight control?
Well that's the thing, even tobacco doesn't help people lose weight. Most people start smoking in their late teens/early 20s, so it's more that you don't put on the weight that you might have otherwise put on if that makes sense. It's one of the reasons people smoke isn't it, because they believe that it helps control their weight. Smoking on average keeps you about five kilos lower than if you hadn't smoked, but there's no evidence to suggest it helps with actual weight loss.
Might that be the case with vaping, that it could prevent you from putting on the weight you otherwise might have? Or even kickstart a weight loss journey?
There's no evidence so far that that would be the case, and we also can't suggest that a non-smoker even starts to vape. We don't know if vaping is 100 percent safe, all we know is it's 95 percent safer than smoking tobacco. So there's no evidence that it can help people lose weight, but as a weight gain preventative? Possibly. It's more weight control than loss, so we certainly don't recommend people take up vaping for weight loss.
Regardless, it's pretty interesting stuff.
Vaping is a really hot topic for research right now, especially as it has taken off around the world. Though what's funny is a lot of what's being studied is the harmful effects of vaping. Vapers are saying, "Well it helps me with this and that," but no one is really researching what they're getting out of it—that deserves to be looked at as well.
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